President Bush opened the Labor Day weekend with a bus cavalcade through Ohio for the second Saturday in a row, and said that peace and prosperity -- which largely eluded him in the first term -- would be his mission in a second.
Ohio, the seventh most populous state but the first in importance to the presidential campaigns of Bush and his Democratic challenger John F. Kerry, has lost more than 200,000 jobs since 2000, making it a ripe target for Kerry's message that Bush has failed middle-class pocketbooks. Kerry also spent the day in the Buckeye State, which Bush won four years ago by 3.6 percentage points.
"If you've got the undecided person out there, just tell them the facts," Bush said at a high school gymnasium in this Cleveland suburb. He cited his usual litany of reasons for the sluggish economy: the recession, corporate scandals, terrorist attacks. "There was great obstacles to growth," Bush said. "Yet we're overcoming those obstacles today."
First lady Laura Bush and their two daughters, Jenna and Barbara, sat on stage in a steady drizzle while the president told the crowd in a park about his new idea of "opportunity zones" that would use tax incentives, regulatory changes and federal funds to promote jobs in hard-hit towns and counties.
Bush's biggest new applause line was his praise for the convention keynote address of Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.), who crossed party lines to harshly denounce Kerry. Now, Bush aides are thinking of sending Miller on the road with Bush.
"He represents a lot of folks who understand that, with four more years, Dick Cheney and I will make this country safer, stronger and better," Bush said in Kirtland, Ohio. At an earlier stop, he said, "There's a lot of folks like Zell."
Ohio, the seventh most populous state but the first in importance to the two campaigns, has lost more than 200,000 jobs since 2000, making it a ripe target for Kerry's message that Bush has failed middle-class pocketbooks. Kerry also spent the day in the Buckeye State, which Bush won four years ago by 3.6 percentage points.
Ohio delegates were lavished with attention at the Republican National Convention, including visits from Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman and White House senior adviser Karl Rove, who told delegates that "Ohio is Ground Zero" and that Bush "will be coming back again and again and again."
Bush spent most of the day traveling through Ohio in his bus caravan, then finished with a rally in Erie, Pa., before returning to the White House. The trip was part of an eight-day, six-state, 16-stop post-convention swing. Sunday, Bush will visit Parkersburg, W.Va.
Campaign officials, savoring television ratings showing that their convention drew 3 million more viewers than the Democrats' and trying to bolster the momentum from Madison Square Garden, are also flooding swing states with high-profile surrogates including Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), former senator Robert J. Dole (Kan.), former Marine Corps commandant Gen. P.X. Kelley, congressional leaders and Medal of Honor recipients.
Bush, dropping by a candy store in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, brushed off two magazine polls that give him a clear lead in the race for the first time. "Got a lot of work to do," he said.
Still, Mehlman said: "There's no question about the fact that we had a good August, and he [Kerry] had a bad August."
Bush's convention was designed to emphasize his leadership in the war on terrorism, and close GOP advisers acknowledge that the president is more vulnerable on the economy and health care. Bush's radio address Saturday repeated his mantra that the economy "is strong and growing stronger," and he said the nation has added about 1.7 million new jobs since last August.
Kerry's campaign said that is worse than any single year of the eight that Bill Clinton was president. Kerry aides said Bush does not mention that, on balance, the economy has lost 913,000 jobs since he was inaugurated in January 2001 -- 1,650,000 in the private sector, partly offset by 737,000 added by the government. Kerry used the Democratic radio address to call the most recent jobs report "disappointing." He said Bush "is now certain to be the first president since Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression who didn't create a single job."
Vice President Cheney continued his tour of touching down in Republican areas in swing states, reprising his convention speech Saturday to about 1,000 party faithful in a humid high school gymnasium in remote Roswell, N.M., a town best known for its claim to a 1967 visit by aliens.
Accompanied by wife Lynne and daughter Mary, Cheney joined Colorado Gov. Bill Owens (R) and McCain in the cotton-, alfalfa- and cheese-producing town of 48,000 to reach local media in three states. Cheney hammered home his broad-brush attacks on the Democratic nominee as a weak, vacillating leader in a time of war and Bush as a messenger of peace and strength.
Kerry's "back-and-forth reflects a habit of indecision and sends a message of confusion," Cheney said. Bush, he said, will use the United States' "great power to great purpose, defending the homeland to defeat forces of terrorism, and spreading hope and freedom around the globe."
McCain, brought out to speak to reporters, predicted that the campaign will return, in part, to domestic themes, noting the reports of a 17 percent increase in Medicare insurance premiums for elderly Americans.
Connie Cook, 59, a Roswell homemaker whose daughter, Danee Cook, 26, is an Army 1st Infantry lieutenant serving in convoys in Iraq, attended the rally and called herself a Bush backer. But she added: "If I thought Kerry would bring her home, I'd probably vote for him. But I don't see that he can do it any sooner that Bush can."
Hsu is traveling with Cheney.